Twenty years after asbestos was banned, the Department for Education estimates that it is still present in more than 83% of England’s schools.
It isn’t just present in small amounts. The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) estimates there are hundreds of tonnes of asbestos contained in schools and other public buildings. Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects.
The JUAC is calling for the phased removal of asbestos from schools, starting with the most dangerous first. They are calling for its complete removal no later than 2028.
General secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT Paul Whiteman said: “The impact of the pandemic on children has been huge. We need to do everything we can to make sure we safeguard their futures.
“One vital way of doing that is to ensure they return to a safe, clean and healthy school environment. With asbestos in the majority of schools that isn’t guaranteed. We’d urge the government to invest in safe school buildings.”
Joint general secretary of the National Education Union Dr Mary Bousted said: “It is disgraceful that school staff and former pupils continue to die because they were exposed to asbestos in our educational establishments. The government’s policy of leaving asbestos in situ is clearly not working.”
JUAC wants an independent review into the government’s policy of managing asbestos where it is, instead of phasing its removal.
The JUAC is also calling for the HSE to proactively inspect schools and colleges to make sure they are monitoring asbestos properly. And it wants to see mandatory training for duty holders, as well as proper support and funding for asbestos removal.